I'm unsure how to ask this. So I'll just ask. When you have a luthier make you an instrument, what kind of details do they need to know?
I posted in a Facebook group about a week ago about buying a viola for 5K. Many people suggested it may be better to get a new instrument for that price (based off of their experience).
I realise this may be a stupid question, but hey ho.
Thanks in advance.
I think its a neat question - but you are likely to get much more information over on Maestronet. That's where the luthiers hang out, and they are incredibly helpful.
The #1 thing a maker needs to know is your budget. If it's $5k, most of them won't need to know any more than that. Double that, and then some might continue asking about other things you want.
Interesting Don - could you expand a bit? What would you get for 5K, and what extra options would be likely to come in for 10, 15, 20 ...
Elise I was thinking the same
For $5k, I can't think of any professional makers (in the U.S.) who would give you anything than a polite "no thank you". Some non-professionals maybe, or in some other country. For the higher levels, it's not the options so much as the reputation of the maker that determines the price.
Wouldn't you have to get pretty lucky to find a luthier who'd make you an instrument for $5k? Seems to me that $7-8k would be getting closer, and still from a little-known maker. Which, by the way, doesn't mean that either the tone or the playability would necessarily be notably inferior to a more expensive instrument.
I agree with Don Noon's opinion. Some time back I approached a well known maker with the same query (~$5k TO $7k) and was politely referred to Isfhin Violins and mentioning the Jay Haide line of violins.
The people who commented on my post in said group, are from my area (ish) and seemed confident that I could get an instrument made for that price
A long-time friend of mine took up violin making as a hobby in his late 40s. Eventually he made and sold about 100 instruments.
The problem is a new amateur $5,000 violin is probably not going to be as good as a good $5,000 antique, or even a good $5,000 modern workshop violin.
I think the key word there is "probably." We are always looking for "outliers."
Maybe Jake is simply thinking of buying a new viola for 5K, not necessarily commissioning one which is likely to be a lengthy process with an uncertain outcome. Plenty of dealers should be able to offer contemporary instruments from various parts of the globe around that price, whereas I believe good old violas are much harder to come by. I recently auditioned a clutch of new violas in that price range at Guivier's in London. Several were by named British makers (all costing somewhat more than £5K) but the one I thought offered the best combination of qualities (at £4.5K) was a workshop instrument from William Harris Lee in Chicago.
Steve is correct I think
You can find a decent, even nice, viola for 5k, it just won't be an instrument made in a 1st world country by a single individual professional maker.
At $5k you're (barring getting lucky, as Andrew has noted) you're not so much commissioning a instrument as you are going to be getting a modern workshop violin, perhaps under the direction of a single maker in the workshop.
I love my Fevrot workshop viola, which was less than $5000.
After an intensive viola shopping tour last year I support that you might mainly look for higher end workshop violas in this price range, be them new or antique, and no matter the origin. Nevertheless, try out whatever comes into your way.
It's great to own a good viola, but when looking for your first one, the biggest part of the job is learning about what you're looking for. Not only in sound colors, but especially which size and type of model would suit you. Do you know already? Which purpose should it serve? (Just "second instrument" besides violin and a bit of pushing the borders? Or eventually complete a switch? Playing in orchestra, or eventually soloing? Should it bring you into - and eventually through - college?)
Jake - I seem to recall seeing something in your earlier posts to suggest that you are in the UK. If that is the case, then you could do worse than considering
David, handmade doesn't exclude the possibility of 100 hands. :)
@David Burgess - Anthony Nickolds most certainly does not import from China. If you'd bothered to read the text on the page I linked to you would see that.
And we're supposed to believe that this Mr Nickolds guy slaves away for less than min wage, just so you can buy super cheap violins 100% made by him????
Saying that, the luthier I used to repair my current viola charges a minumum of £3,000 for a comission. And his instruments should be good if his repair is anything to go by
At this end of the market I can't see any good reason for waiting months or years for a pig in a poke (and there's a finite chance it will be a pig!) when there are plenty of decent instruments you can audition thoroughly
It seems like a big mistake to commission an instrument from a luthier purely on the basis of competent repair work. I would be extremely hesitant to commission an instrument without trying at least a few of the luthier's other instruments first.
Andrew, the luthier is highly recommended by my previous teacher. I have played on a few of the instruments of his my teacher had
Lyndon - email the guy and ask him. You might find it educational.
David Burgess - I don't think your problem is the monster under the bed. Possibly the troll lying in it might be the real issue though. :-)
I wonder if the UK is a good place to go violin shopping for an American. The US dollar has gotten significantly stronger against the British Pound.
Tony, are you sayin' my wife is a troll, or would you care to otherwise explain how you reached that conclusion?
I'm only an occasional viola-player but it took a long time to find one I was satisfied with in that price range. Even my 17-incher from Yitamusic was better than most of them. It's also important to take into account exactly what kind of instrument you need, for what purpose? So I wouldn't dream of commissioning or buying one on spec, no matter how good the reputation of the maker. One of my quartet colleagues was blessed with an uncle who made instruments and insisted on giving her a viola which she felt obliged to play. She was never heard from again, on the C-string at least
David, not your wife of course. But maybe the other occupant.
Commissioning is not without risks, so look for a maker who shoulders as much of the risk as possible, such as one who will promptly and cheerfully refund any money paid, for almost any reason, including if you found something you are happy with in the interim, or if the delivered product does not meet YOUR expectations.
You have to be a little bit gullible if you think a professional UK maker is hand making from scratch violins for $5000. I'm not saying its impossible, just very unlikely. Much more likely he is importing violins in the white and finishing them in the UK.
After trying a few newish student violas belonging to friends, I found the tone to be somewhat lacking in character. I called the luthier who has been doing my rehairs and asked if he had any old violas. Turned out he did have on consignment an old German trade viola that had been regraduated. As soon as I tried it, I liked its tone and responsiveness. Viola, bow, and case cost $1500. That's one fifth of what I paid for my commissioned violin, and I don't have to play the viola for two years to "play it in." Recently I read "The Violin Maker" by John Marchese --be sure to read it before you commission a violin!
Perhaps there's some sort of subsidy involved here, or maybe the cost of living in the UK is somehow low enough to make $5k (or £5k) a realistic price for the work of a non-"name" maker?
Chinese labour rates are $1/hr, that's how.
Tony, since I'm here in this forum I never found any snobbery or trolling in David's posts. I always experienced his opinion as balanced and helpful, and himself as a person with good humor who stayed rather humble despite his stellar success as a violin maker. And no matter the price any other luthier may ask for his products, be sure that for him there is nothing to be threatened by. Since his waiting list seems to be longer than the amount of time he's planning to continue his active career, he actively discourages potential customers.
Here my two cents about choosing a good viola, as a player.
I might look to commission, somewhere down the road, a violin modeled after the “grand pattern” of Nicolò Amati. I read that this pattern produced very good tonal results.
Here's an interesting press article about Anthony Nickolds:
I highly endorse Erin Sabrini's recommendation of the book "The Violin Maker." This outstanding read tells the story of violinist Eugene Drucker's commissioning of a new violin from maker Sam Zygmuntowicz. Drucker is a founding violinist of the Emerson Quartet and owned and played a Stradivarius at the time of the commission. Zygmuntowicz is probably the world's most acclaimed current maker (and history may eventually claim of the 20th and 21st century).
Andrew's characteristically wise thoughts about purchasing vs. commissioning are well taken.
Paul, I guess that makes me a "collector" too.
To go back to the original question, each maker will let you know what they need to know.
Andrew--I read in an old V.com discussion that you, too, have a regraduated German trade viola! Mine came with Helicore strings; I'm wondering what you are using??